Frank Mildmay or the Naval Officer

Frank Mildmay or the Naval Officer

by Captain Frederick Marryat, Rafael Sabatini

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Frank Mildmay is a rogue and a rascal who cuts a memorable swath as he move up the ranks of the early 19th-century Royal navy. Whether seducing pretty girls ashore, braving hurricanes at sea or scrambling aboard a French privateer with cutlass bared, Mildmay and his adventures live on!


Frank Mildmay is a rogue and a rascal who cuts a memorable swath as he move up the ranks of the early 19th-century Royal navy. Whether seducing pretty girls ashore, braving hurricanes at sea or scrambling aboard a French privateer with cutlass bared, Mildmay and his adventures live on!

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This was Marryat's navy, his world, and no one brings it to us with greater authenticity."  —Alexander Kent

"Marryat's writing . . . is also absorbing and delightful."  —J. S. Bratton, The Novel to 1900

Library Journal
With this duo, published in 1829 and 1836, respectively, McBooks launches its new "Classics of Nautical Fiction." Marryat was a skipper in the British Navy, and the action here is based on his real experiences before the mast. When all your Patrick O'Brians are out, recommend Marryat.

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McBooks Press
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Classics of Nautical Fiction Series
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5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.92(d)

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Frank Mildmay or The Naval Officer

By Frederick Marryat

McBooks Press, Inc.

Copyright © 1998 McBooks Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-935526-39-4


These are the errors, and these are the fruits of misspending our prime youth at the schools and universities, as we do, either in learning mere words, or such things chiefly as were better unlearned.


MY FATHER was a gentleman, and a man of considerable property. In my infancy and childhood I was weak and sickly, but the favourite of my parents beyond all my brothers and sisters, because they saw that my mind was far superior to my sickly frame, and feared they should never raise me to manhood; contrary, however, to their expectations, I surmounted all these untoward appearances, and attracted much notice from my liveliness, quickness of repartee, and impudence: qualities which have been of much use to me through life.

I can remember that I was both a coward and a boaster; but I have frequently remarked that the quality which we call cowardice in a child, is no more than implying a greater sense of danger, and consequently a superior intellect. We are all naturally cowards: education and observation teach us to discriminate between real and apparent danger; pride teaches the concealment of fear, and habit renders us indifferent to that from which we have often escaped with impunity. It is related of the Great Frederick that he misbehaved the first time he went into action; and it is certain that a novice in such a situation can no more command all his resources than a boy when first bound apprentice to a shoemaker can make a pair of shoes. We must learn our trade, whether it be to stand steady before the enemy, or to stitch a boot; practice alone can make a Hoby or a Wellington.

I pass on to my schooldays, when the most lasting impressions are made. The foundation of my moral and religious instruction had been laid with care by my excellent parents; but, alas! from the time I quitted the paternal roof not one stone was added to the building, and even the traces of what existed were nearly obliterated by the deluge of vice which threatened soon to overwhelm me. Sometimes, indeed, I feebly, but ineffectually endeavoured to stem the torrent; at others, I suffered myself to be borne along with all its fatal rapidity. I was frank, generous, quick, and mischievous; and I must admit that a large portion of what sailors call "devil" was openly displayed, and a much larger portion latently deposited in my brain and bosom. My ruling passion, even in this early stage of life, was pride. Lucifer himself, if he ever was seven years old, had not more. If I have gained a fair name in the service, if I have led instead of followed, it must be ascribed to this my ruling passion. The world has often given me credit for better feelings, as the source of action, but I am not writing to conceal, and the truth must be told.

I was sent to school to learn Latin and Greek, which there are various ways of teaching. Some tutors attempt the suaviter in modo, my schoolmaster preferred the fortiter in re; and, as the boatswain said, by the "instigation" of a large knotted stick, he drove knowledge into our skulls as a caulker drives oakum into the seams of a ship. Under such tuition, we made astonishing progress; and whatever my less desirable acquirements may have been, my father had no cause to complain of my deficiency in classic lore. Superior in capacity to most of my schoolfellows, I seldom took the pains to learn my lesson previous to going up with my class: "the master's blessing," as we called it, did occasionally descend on my devoted head, but that was a bagatelle; I was too proud not to keep pace with my equals, and too idle to do more.

Had my schoolmaster been a single man, my stay under his care might have been prolonged to my advantage; but unfortunately, both for him and for me, he had a helpmate, and her peculiarly unfortunate disposition was the means of corrupting those morals over which it was her duty to have watched with the most assiduous care. Her ruling passions were suspicion and avarice, written in legible characters in her piercing eyes and sharppointed nose. She never supposed us capable of telling the truth, so we very naturally never gave ourselves the trouble to cultivate a useless virtue, and seldom resorted to it unless it answered our purpose better than a lie. This propensity of Mrs Higginbottom converted our candour and honesty into deceit and fraud. Never believed, we cared little about the accuracy of our assertions; half-starved, through her meanness and parsimony, we were little scrupulous as to the ways and means provided we could satisfy our hunger; and thus we soon became as great adepts in the elegant accomplishments of lying and thieving, under her tuition, as we did in Greek and Latin under that of her husband.

A large orchard, fields, garden, and poultry-yard attached to the establishment, were under the care and superintendence of the mistress, who usually selected one of the boys as her prime minister and confidential adviser. This boy, for whose education his parents were paying some sixty or eighty pounds per annum, was permitted to pass his time in gathering up the windfalls; in watching the hens, and bringing in their eggs, when their cackling throats had announced their safe accouchement; looking after the broods of young ducks and chickens, et hoc genus omne; in short, doing the duty of what is usually termed the odd man in the farmyard. How far the parents would have been satisfied with this arrangement, I leave my readers to guess; but to us who preferred the manual to mental exertion, exercise to restraint, and any description of cultivation to that of cultivating the mind, it suited extremely well; and accordingly no place in the gift of government was ever the object of such solicitude and intrigue, as was to us schoolboys the situation of collector and trustee of the eggs and apples.

I had the good fortune to be early selected for this important post, and the misfortune to lose it soon after, owing to the cunning and envy of my schoolfellows and the suspicion of my employers. On my first coming into office, I had formed the most sincere resolutions of honesty and vigilance; but what are good resolutions, when discouraged on the one hand by the revilings of suspicion, and assailed on the other by the cravings of appetite? My morning's collection was exacted from me to the very last nut, and the greedy eyes of my mistress seemed to inquire for more. Suspected when innocent, I became guilty out of revenge; was detected and dismissed. A successor was appointed, to whom I surrendered all my offices of trust, and having perfect leisure, I made it my sole business to supplant him.

It was an axiom in mathematics with me at that time, though not found in Euclid, that wherever I could enter my head, my whole body might follow. As a practical illustration of this proposition, I applied my head to the arched hole of the hen house door, and by scraping away a little dirt, contrived to gain admittance, and very speedily transferred all the eggs to my own chest. When the new purveyor arrived, he found nothing but "a beggarly account of empty boxes;" and his perambulations in the orchard and garden, for the same reason were equally fruitless. The pilferings of the orchard and garden I confiscated as droits; but when I had collected a sufficient number of eggs to furnish a nest, I gave information of my pretended discovery to my mistress, who, thinking she had not changed for the better, dismissed my successor, and received me into favour again. I was, like many greater men, immediately reinstated in office when it was discovered that they could not do without me. I once more became chancellor of the hen roost and ranger of the orchard, with greater power than I had possessed before my disgrace. Had my mistress looked half as much in my face as she did into my hatful of eggs, she would have read my guilt; for at that unsophisticated age I could blush, a habit long since discarded in the course of my professional duties.

In order to preserve my credit and my situation, I no longer contented myself with windfalls, but assisted nature in her labours, and greatly lightened the burthen of many a loaded fruit-tree; by these means, I not only gratified the avarice of my mistress at her own expense, but also laid by a store for my own use. On my restoration to office, I had an ample fund in my exchequer to answer all present demands; and by a provident and industrious anticipation, was enabled to lull the suspicions of my employers, and to bid defiance to the opposition. It will readily be supposed that a lad of my acuteness did not omit any technical management for the purpose of disguise; the fruits which I presented were generally soiled with dirt at the ends of the stalks, in such a manner as to give them all the appearance of "felo de se," i.e. fell of itself. Thus, in the course of a few months, did I become an adept of vice, from the mismanagement of those into whose hands I was intrusted to be strengthened in religion and virtue.

Fortunately for me, as far as my education was concerned, I did not long continue to hold this honourable and lucrative employment. One of those unhappy beings called an usher peeped into my chest, and by way of acquiring popularity with the mistress and scholars, forthwith denounced me to the higher powers. The proofs of my peculation were too glaring, and the amount too serious to be passed over; I was tried, convicted, condemned, sentenced, flogged, and dismissed in the course of half an hour; and such was the degree of turpitude attached to me on this occasion, that I was rendered for ever incapable of serving in that or any other employment connected with the garden or farm; I was placed at the bottom of the list, and declared to be the worst boy in the school.

This in many points of view was too true; but there was one boy who bade fair to rival me on the score of delinquency; this was Tom Crauford, who from that day became my most intimate friend. Tom was a fine spirited fellow, up to everything; loved mischief, though not vicious; and was ready to support me in everything through thick and thin; and truly I found him sufficient employment. I threw off all disguise, laughed at any suggestion of reform, which I considered as not only useless, but certain of subjecting me to ridicule and contempt among my associates. I therefore adopted the motto of some great man "to be rather than seem to be." I led in every danger; declared war against all drivellers and half-measures; stole everything that was eatable from garden, orchard, or hen house, knowing full well that whether I did so or not, I should be equally suspected. Thenceforward all fruit missed, all arrows shot into pigs, all stones thrown into windows, and all mud spattered over clean linen hung out to dry, were traced to Tom and myself; and with the usual alacrity of an arbitrary police, the space between apprehension and punishment was very short — we were constantly brought before the master, and as regularly dismissed with "his blessing" till we became hardened to blows and to shame.

Thus, by the covetousness of this woman, who was the grey mare, and the folly of the master, who, in anything but Greek and Latin, was an ass, my good principles were nearly eradicated from my bosom, and in their place were sown seeds which very shortly produced an abundant harvest.

There was a boy at our school lately imported from the East Indies. We nick-named him Johnny Pagoda. He was remarkable for nothing but ignorance, impudence, great personal strength, and, as we thought, determined resolution. He was about nineteen years of age. One day he incurred the displeasure of the master, who, enraged at his want of comprehension and attention, struck him over the head with a knotted cane. This appeal, although made to the least sensitive part of his frame, roused the indolent Asiatic from his usual torpid state. The weapon, in the twinkling of an eye, was snatched out of the hand, and suspended over the head of the astonished pedagogue, who, seeing the tables so suddenly turned against him, made the signal for assistance. I clapped my hands, shouted "Bravo! lay on, Johnny — go it — you have done it now — you may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb;" but the ushers began to muster round, the boy hung aloof, and Pagoda, uncertain which side the neutrals would take, laid down his arms, and surrendered at discretion.

Had the East Indian followed up his act by the application of a little discipline at the fountain-head, it is more than probable that a popular commotion, not unlike that of Mas' Aniello would have ensued; but the time was not come: the Indian showed a white feather, was laughed at, flogged, and sent home to his friends, who had intended him for the bar; but foreseeing that he might, in the course of events, chance to cut a figure on the wrong side of it, sent him to sea, where his valour, if he had any, would find more profitable employment.

This unsuccessful attempt of the young Oriental, was the primary cause of all my fame and celebrity in afterlife. I had always hated school; and this, of all others, seemed to me the most hateful. The emancipation of Johnny Pagoda convinced me that my deliverance might be effected in a similar manner. The train was laid, and a spark set it on fire. This spark was supplied by the folly and vanity of a fat French dancing-master. These Frenchmen are ever at the bottom of mischief. Mrs Higginbottom, the master's wife, had denounced me to Monsieur Aristide Maugrebleu as a mauvais sujet; and as he was a creature of hers, he frequently annoyed me to gratify his patroness. This fellow was at that time about forty-five years of age, and had much more experience than agility, having greatly increased his bulk by the roast beef and ale of England. While he taught us the rigadoons of his own country, his vanity induced him to attempt feats much above the cumbrous weight of his frame. I entered the lists with him, beat him at his own trade, and he beat me with his fiddle-stick, which broke in two over my head; then, making one more glorious effort to show that he would not be outdone, snapped the tendon Achilles, and down he fell, hors de combat as a dancing-master. He was taken away in his gig to be cured, and I was taken into the school-room to be flogged.

This I thought so unjust that I ran away. Tom Crauford helped me to scale the wall; and when he supposed I had got far enough to be out of danger from pursuit, went and gave information, to avoid the suspicion of having aided and abetted. After running a mile, to use a sea phrase, I hove to, and began to compose, in my mind, an oration which I intended to pronounce before my father, by way of apology for my sudden and unexpected appearance; but I was interrupted by the detested usher and half a dozen of the senior boys, among whom was Tom Crauford. Coming behind me as I sat on a stile, they cut short my meditations by a tap on the shoulder, collared and marched me to the right about in double quick time. Tom Crauford was one of those who held me, and outdid himself in zealous invective at my base ingratitude in absconding from the best of masters, and the most affectionate, tender, and motherly of all school-dames.

The usher swallowed all this, and I soon made him swallow a great deal more. We passed near the side of a pond, the shoals and depths of which were well known to me. I looked at Tom out of the corner of my eye, and motioned him to let me go; and, like a mackerel out of a fisherman's hand, I darted into the water, got up to my middle, and then very coolly, for it was November, turned round to gaze at my escort, who stood at bay, and looked very much like fools. The usher, like a low bred cur, when he could no longer bully, began to fawn; he entreated and he implored me to think on "my papa and mamma; how miserable they would be, if they could but see me; what an increase of punishment I was bringing on myself by such obstinacy." He held out by turns coaxes and threats; in short, everything but an amnesty, to which I considered myself entitled, having been driven to rebellion by the most cruel persecution.


Excerpted from Frank Mildmay or The Naval Officer by Frederick Marryat. Copyright © 1998 McBooks Press. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This

Virginia Woolf
Marryat has the power to set us in the midst of ships and men and sea and sky all vivid, credible, authentic.
Joseph Conrad
…[Marryat's] greatness is undeniable.
—(Joseph Conrad, Notes on Life and Letters)
J. S. Bratton
Marryat's writing…is also absorbing and delightful.
—(J.S. Bratton, The Novel to 1900)
Alexander Kent
This was Marryat's navy, his world, and no one brings it to us with greater authenticity.

Meet the Author

Captain Frederick Marryat (1792–1848) was an actual 19th-century British naval hero who lived a saga worthy of the novels of C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian. He survived fifty naval battles on the crack frigate Imperieuse under Lord Cochrane—the real-life model for Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey. In addition to plenty of cannonfire, battle strategy, peril, and passion—liberally sprinkled with wit and fine turns of phrase—Marryat's real-life naval experiences lend his novels a truly remarkable authenticity.

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